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Teachers and key workers will be added to the vaccine priority list when the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab is finally approved as the government bids to accelerate its roll-out plans, reports say.
With approval for the Oxford Covid vaccine set to come as early as today, ministers are believed to be planning to overhaul the current order, which currently focuses on the elderly, vulnerable and care home employees as well as NHS staff.
But Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust who advises Number 10's advisory panel SAGE, warned even if Britain hits one million coronavirus vaccinations a week, it will not curb the pandemic by February.
Another Government adviser today warned the UK is unlikely to get herd immunity against Covid for months, even if the Army-backed operation to roll out the vaccine is dramatically expanded in the coming days.
Professor Calum Semple, an infectious diseases expert at Liverpool University, said up to 80 per cent of the country will need the jab to ensure the virus can no longer cause havoc. But he warned getting so many people vaccinated - roughly 50million Brits - will take 'right into the summer'.
Government sources last night told the Mail that hundreds of town halls and village community centres are poised to help roll out the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab to millions as quickly as possible. Health bosses have recruited an army of more than 10,000 volunteers and medics to help deliver the jab.
It comes as millions of children were consigned to much-maligned home learning for at least another week because all England's secondary schools will be shut for most pupils from Monday. Michael Gove today confirmed only primary school pupils and children in years 11 and 13 will return in the New Year.
Meanwhile, doctors fear the NHS could be overwhelmed within a matter of days as hospital admissions continue to surge, with another highly infectious variant raging across the UK.
And millions more Britons face being plunged into the toughest Tier Four restrictions this week, with the next tier review on December 30 amid spiralling infections and hospitalisations.
In other Covid news:
Sir Jeremy Farrar said even if the government hits its target of one million vaccinated per week it will not bring forward the end of the battle with the virus
A woman is given the Pfizer vaccine at Cardiff and Vale Therapy Centre on December 8
Michael Gove today confirmed that millions of children will be consigned to much-maligned home learning from Monday because England's secondary schools will all be shut for the majority of students.
The Cabinet Office minister has said that only children in years 11 and 13, and those with key worker parents, will go to school from January 4 - but all primary schools will be expected to open as usual.
And Mr Gove appeared to open the door to schools being closed for longer as he said the staggered opening plan would be kept 'under review' amid rumours that students in Tier 4 could be at home until mid-February because of the new mutant coronavirus strain.
The Government has bowed to pressure from teachers and unions who demanded that secondary school children should be taught online after the Christmas holidays to allow coronavirus testing to take place and for teachers to be vaccinated.
Many parents have slammed the standard and frequency of online classes during 2020, while critics have said that agreeing to shut schools for next week will now make it increasingly difficult for them to reopen again.
Mr Gove said: 'Teachers and head teachers have been working incredibly hard over the Christmas period since schools broke up in order to prepare for a new testing regime - community testing - in order to make sure that children and all of us are safer. We do keep things under review but that is the plan'.
The decision will consign millions of students to virtual classes, which experts believe means children, particularly from working class backgrounds, are being set back 'years' because of sub-standard online learning.Advertisement
Ministers are believed to be planning to add teachers and key workers to the vaccine priority list as they look to get children back to school and ramp up the number getting the jab, the Sun reports.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has already admitted that ministers are 'looking' at bumping teachers up the vaccine queue, in order to prevent any further disruption to schools, which were forced to shut in the spring to contain the first wave of the pandemic.
Currently, elderly care home residents and their carers are at the front of the queue for the Covid vaccine.
But the logistical nightmare of getting the Pfizer/BioNTech jab to care homes meant that over-80s and NHS staff were eligible for the first shots to ensure none went to waste.
There are hopes the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be approved by regulators this week, as officials plan for the most vulnerable in the UK to get their jab by March.
Government sources say that between 12 and 15million people have been identified as likely to require hospital treatment if they contract coronavirus, or be at risk of dying from it.
Once this group has received the vaccine – which some officials hope could be achieved by the end of February – then the NHS would no longer be at risk of being overwhelmed if the virus spread through the greater population.
Plans are understood to already be in place to roll out the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab across the country from January 4. Village halls and local community centres will be coupled with mass vaccination centres within conference venues and sports stadiums, likely to launch in the second week of January.
If efforts to vaccinate the most vulnerable by the end of February are successful, it is hoped it will take the country out of a seemingly endless cycle of lockdowns.
The Oxford vaccine is so important because the UK has early access to a chunk of its advance order of 100million doses. No10 has only received a fraction of the 40million shots it has ordered of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine.
The Oxford jab is manufactured in the UK, meaning delivery is simpler, and it can be stored at normal fridge temperatures, whereas the Pfizer jabs must largely be kept at around minus 70C.
Discussing the Covid crisis Britain faces this month, Sir Jeremy told the Today programme: 'I think the next few weeks going into January are going to be extremely difficult across the country.
'We're also in the middle of winter of course when pressure on the NHS is at its greatest.
'You've had the national lockdown lifted on the second of December, you've had three weeks building up until Christmas - I think people did change their behaviour over Christmas quite substantially - but coming into the next two or three weeks we're going to have potentially schools reopening, universities reopening and that will put additional pressure, plus this new variant which we do know is more transmissible.'
He added: 'We're not going to be free of this pandemic by February, this is now a human endemic infection.
'If we do manage to hit the target of a million [vaccinated] a week, frankly I don't think that's enough to speed that up if we wanted to get the country covered.
Another pressing concern is the R number which the government and experts are in a constant battle to keep below one. Pictured: The PM last week
The total number of patients in hospital with the virus is likely to exceed the peak from the first wave, with 21,286 coronavirus patients being treated on December 22 - the most recent day data is available for. In comparison, the figure on April 12 was 21,683
Hundreds of pop-up GP-led centres are on the way as part of a huge vaccination drive, ministers revealed last night.
With approval for the Oxford vaccine set to come as early as today, Government sources told the Mail that town halls and village community centres are poised to help roll out the jab to millions as quickly as possible.
The centres will be staffed by GPs, nurses, paramedics and pharmacists, with the aim to open the first of them next week.
An army of more than 10,000 volunteers and medics have been recruited by the NHS to help deliver the Oxford vaccine after its approval, it has emerged.Advertisement
'And again the variant we have seen in South Africa, which is different, just also demonstrates how important it is not just to focus on vaccinating this country, but to vaccinating the world because otherwise new variants will come from other countries and eventually they will come back to this country.
'And some of those may escape treatments and may escape vaccines.'
The first approved coronavirus jab in the Western world was administered to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan on December 8.
By Christmas Eve, more than 600,000 in the UK had received the Pfizer vaccine, according to the Government.
However critics have suggested the vaccination programme needs to move faster.
The planned ramping up of vaccinations would be possible because there are said to be millions of doses of the Oxford vaccine on standby in the UK for use.
Another pressing concern im Britain's battle against Covid is the R number, which the government and experts are in a constant battle to keep below one.
Sir Jeremy predicted how the R rate will fluctuate based on the new variant of Covid-19 and the reopening of schools.
He said: 'If you think that the new variant - and this is a personal guess here - adds about 0.4/0.5 to R, schools may add another 0.2/0.3 and you're getting very close to one already with just those two changes, let alone the relaxation over Christmas.
'So I think there's some very, very tough choices. Of course there is light at the end of the tunnel, we all know that, the vaccines are coming, but they're not going to change the pandemic in the very short term.
'We're going to see these continued pressures at least over the next two or three months.'
Doctors fear the NHS could be overwhelmed within days as hospital admissions surge due to the highly infectious Covid strain raging across the country.
The total number of patients in hospital with the virus is likely to exceed the peak from the first wave, with 21,286 coronavirus patients being treated on December 22 - the most recent day data is available for. In comparison, the figure on April 12 was 21,683.
The fears come as millions more Britons face being plunged into Tier Four this week, with the next tier review on December 30 amid rising infections and hospitalisations.
Doctors in London said their hospitals resembled a 'war zone', while Members of the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties warned the mutant strain 'could lead to the NHS being overwhelmed', according to The Times.
Paramedics in the capital are receiving almost 8,000 call-outs daily, and Boxing Day was described as one of London Ambulance Service's 'busiest ever days'. The 7,918 calls received by London Ambulance Service (LAS) on December 26 was up more than 2,500 on the 5,217 received on the same day last year, and medics are receiving support from other ambulance services in the South.
One paramedic said that crews were waiting around six-hours on average to hand over patients, who were often being treated in ambulance bays because of a lack of available bed. He told the BBC: 'It's been a horrendous time. Ambulance staff are finding the whole situation very stressful.' South Central Ambulance Service, which serves Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire, has also warned that it is 'extremely busy' and that 999 should only be dialled in a 'life-threatening or serious emergency'.Advertisement
Sir Jeremy warned it will be a 'tricky trade off' when balancing opening schools with opening other sectors in the New Year.
He added: 'I think [the arguments for opening or keeping closed] are very finely balanced.
'My own view is schools opening is an absolute priority but society and of course this is a political decision, will have to balance keeping schools open if that's possible with closing down other parts of society.
'It's going to be a tricky trade off. You cannot have everything. You cannot have the whole of society opening and schools opening and further education opening and universities and keep R below one with this variant.'
But today Michael Gove today consigned millions of children to home learning for at least a week as he confirmed England's secondary schools will be shut for most students from Monday.
The Cabinet Office minister has said only year 11 and 13, and those with key worker parents, will go to school from January 4 - but all primary schools will be expected to open as usual.
It means the Government has given in to pressure from teachers and unions who demanded secondary school children will be taught online after the Christmas.
Unions asked all schools should be closed for the first two weeks to allow coronavirus testing to take place and for teachers to be vaccinated.
Parents slammed the standard and frequency of online classes during the first national lockdown while critics said today's decision will make it increasingly difficult for schools to reopen.
Mr Gove told the Government hopes the staggered reopening of schools in England will go ahead in January as planned, but said it would be kept 'under review' amid rumours that students in Tier 4 could be at home until mid-February.
He said: 'Teachers and head teachers have been working incredibly hard over the Christmas period since schools broke up in order to prepare for a new testing regime - community testing - in order to make sure that children and all of us are safer. We do keep things under review but that is the plan.'
The decision will consign millions of students to virtual classes, which experts believe means children are being set back 'years' because of sub-standard online learning.
Meanwhile Doctors in London said their hospitals resembled a 'war zone', while members of the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties warned the mutant strain 'could lead to the NHS being overwhelmed'.
Paramedics in the capital are receiving almost 8,000 call-outs daily, and Boxing Day was described as one of London Ambulance Service's 'busiest ever days'.
The 7,918 calls received by London Ambulance Service (LAS) on December 26 was up more than 2,500 on the 5,217 received on the same day last year, and medics are receiving support from other ambulance services in the South.
Tory MPs have told Boris Johnson that school closures risked 'damaging the life chances of our next generation'
The NHS is faced with a 'staffing crisis' as 'one in ten workers' are off sick or isolating while soaring coronavirus cases hit hospitals, a doctor has claimed.
Covid advisor to the British Medical Association, Dr David Strain, has claimed that the shortages mean there are not enough staff to re-open the Nightingale hospitals.
The sickness figure also includes staff who are self-isolating following contact with with people who have tested positive outside of work.
'The NHS has been running on just about enough doctors and nurses for 10 to 15 years. So with up to 10 per cent of healthcare workers off sick, there are no longer enough,' Dr Strain, a hospital consultant in Exeter, told the Sunday Mirror.
He explained how the 'staffing crisis' poses a threat to derail the NHS in the battle against an increase in Covid-19 cases.Advertisement
One paramedic said crews were waiting around six hours on average to hand over patients, who were often being treated in ambulance bays because of a lack of available bed.
He told the BBC: 'It's been a horrendous time. Ambulance staff are finding the whole situation very stressful.'
South Central Ambulance Service, which serves Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire, has also warned that it is 'extremely busy' and that 999 should only be dialled in a 'life-threatening or serious emergency'.
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, responsible for Wales' largest hospital has called for urgent help, asking for 'assistance from medical students or other staff groups who have previously supported with proning patients'.
NHS England also warned the entire health service will have to stay on its highest state of alert until at least the end of March due to an ongoing influx of patients.
The UK reported 30,501 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, with a further 316 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, government statistics showed.
Yesterday's death figure represents a 3.1 per cent drop in the number of Covid deaths compared with the same day last week, as last Sunday's toll was 326.
And due to delays in reporting over Christmas government figures appear to show a 15 per cent fall in the number of new cases reported today, as the number stood at 35,928 last Sunday.
But infections soared by 57 per cent last week and the spread of the new strain is now taking hold further north after first being detected in Kent, reports The Times.
As a result millions more now face being told to 'stay at home' when the tiers are reviewed on Wednesday after a loosening of the rules over Christmas.
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board posted on their Facebook page with an update
Pictured: Doreen Brown, 85, receives the first of two Pfizer Covid-19 vaccinations at Guy's Hospital, London, on December 8
The next tier review is on December 30 and infections continue to climb and hospital admissions increase. Pictured are Boxing Day shoppers in Tier 3 Nottingham
The Covid-19 pandemic could be the biggest hit to mental health since the Second World War, a leading psychiatrist has warned.
Dr Adrian James, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has said even when the virus is under control, there will be 'profound' long-term consequences.
He told the Guardian: 'It is probably the biggest hit to mental health since the Second World War.
'It doesn't stop when the virus is under control and there are few people in hospital. You've got to fund the long-term consequences.'
The deaths of loved ones from coronavirus, along with mass unemployment and the social effects of draconian lockdown are well documented.
Mental health charity Mind described the situation by Christmas as a 'mental health emergency', adding that '2020 has been a year of anxiety and uncertainty and more people need us than ever before'.Advertisement
Some hospitals have even begun setting up makeshift intensive care beds in paediatric and cancer wards. Some trusts predict they will have a third or half of all of their beds filled with Covid patients by New Year's Eve.
Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said January and February will be 'critical' as he recommended a nationwide Tier 4.
The most up-to-date seven-day hospital admission average is 1,984. Hospital admissions are currently at a higher figure than the week before the second lockdown - where there was a seven-day average of 1,191.
One senior government official told the publication that the new strain of Covid had overtaken the old and was 'running rampant' in the UK.
The rate of infection is causing the government to ramp up its vaccination programme, with hundreds of pop-up GP-led centres on the way as part of a huge drive.
With approval for the Oxford vaccine set to come as early as Monday, Government sources said town halls and village community centres are poised to help roll out the jab to millions as quickly as possible.
The centres will be staffed by GPs, nurses, paramedics and pharmacists, with the aim to open the first of them next week.
An army of more than 10,000 volunteers and medics have been recruited by the NHS to help deliver the Oxford vaccine after its approval, it has emerged.
It comes as scientists have warned that the whole of England should be put into Tier 4 immediately to stop the spread of the new mutant coronavirus strain.
SAGE have said thousands more people will now be infected in the new year, with one of their experts Dr Zubaida Haque yesterday questioning why the government haven't placed the whole country under the toughest restrictions to save lives.
She tweeted: 'Given that we surpassed 70,000 #COVID19 deaths in UK on Christmas Day, and there are now more patients with coronavirus in hospital than at any point in the pandemic, why hasn't the government implemented #tier4 restrictions everywhere in the UK? @IndependentSage are very worried.
'Given the crisis situation we're in with the highest number of daily deaths with #COVID19 in 2nd wave, with 1000's more likely to be infected because of relaxation of rules in tier 1-3 on Christmas Day AND failed govt's test & trace system, we need #tier4 everywhere now to save lives.'
There were 231 deaths in England today, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 48,542 - within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test- NHS England said on Sunday.
In England the patients were aged between 30 and 103. All except five, aged between 36 and 85, had known underlying health conditions. The deaths were between December 9 and 26.
The mutant strain of coronavirus has sparked fear as the number of cases rise dramatically, especially in London and the Home Counties.
And researchers have now said there is 'some evidence that the increase may be particularly marked in children', which raises the question of whether schools should open in January after the Christmas break.
The new variant will lead to a wave of coronavirus cases and deaths that will peak in spring 2021 for London, the South East and east of England, they said.
It comes as millions more people moved into Tier 4 yesterday after those already under the tightest coronavirus restrictions celebrated a Covid Christmas any way they could.
Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire moved into Tier 4, created in response to a variant of Covid-19 discovered in the UK, on Saturday.
The parts of Essex still in Tier 2, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire including Portsmouth and Southampton, but with the exception of the New Forest, also moved into the toughest tier.
The additional six million that went into Tier 4 took the total number of people under the toughest restrictions to 24 million - 43 per cent of England's population. A further 24.8 million moved to Tier 3.
It came after many had to make the most of a Christmas Day already under Tier 4 restrictions in London and the south east.
It comes after today the top boss of Oxford vaccine maker AstraZeneca said researchers have worked out a 'winning formula' to boost the jab's efficacy, with ministers hoping it will bring an end to the cycle of lockdowns within months.
Pascal Soriot, chief executive of the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm, says a two-dose method can push the vaccine's efficacy rate near to that of rivals Pfizer and Moderna.
His comments come as officials reportedly prepare to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab as early as today.